Column – Let Your Encouragers Support
Published 8:28 pm Friday, August 19, 2022
Our tour bus rolled us into town as the afternoon wound down. Something about that night’s hotel looked familiar to me. I chalked that up to my imagination, given that I had never been to the country of Greece before, much less the small village of Delphi.
Years later, I found out why the hotel looked familiar. I was rewatching an old episode of the classic 80s show Hart to Hart. They were over in Greece, and the cross-country car rally they were participating in took an overnight stay there. Right at the very same hotel we were now occupying.
Of course, our tour the next morning was why we had come to rest here. That day, we would visit the ruins of ancient Delphi. A city famous for its “Oracle” during ancient and biblical times.
In reality, there were young ladies who took turns serving as the voice of the Oracle. They hid inside the temple of Apollo, whichever of them was on duty at a given time. They listened to questions and gave prophecies or predictions under the name of Pythia. The supposed daughter of the Greek god Apollo.
As scientists know now, after a short time of being in that particular location, the geothermal gasses that were passing up from the earth would make the women hallucinate slightly.
Average people, as well as foreign heads of state who had traveled long distances to seek the Oracle’s council about cultural, economic and matters of war– were getting their predictions of victory or defeat. They were getting counsel on whether to undertake something new or risky, all because of the words of an intoxicated person who happened to be on duty.
Victory. Defeat. Most of us know them both because life brings us some of both. Our scripture in Hebrews 11: 29-12: 2 features some important sacred counsel to us.
The letter, written to a primarily Hebrew audience within the early church, recounts the tales of their own history. Great leaders acted boldly by faith. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses’s parents, and Moses all endured challenges or hardship.
The list of names, clearly intended to inspire and encourage the letter’s readers, surely would have caused them to recall the stories of these biblical figures in all their complexity.
Mary Foskett writes of this passage, “It is because of their faith alone that the writer sees each of them, these flawed and messy human beings, as righteous. The stories of people of faith that the writer brings up not only weaves the community’s own story with those of the ones who have come before, it also connects them to the story of Jesus.”
For the writer and the community, Jesus is the ultimate model of faith. In the same way that he disregarded the shame that accompanied his suffering, those who seek to follow “by faith” also have to set aside shame in their humility and endure the kind of risk that can accompany the life of discipleship.
Many cultures of African descent, or especially of Native American heritage, speak of their ancestors in a strong and supportive way. Our Catholic neighbors have a strong heritage of saints who have served as role models and indicators of God’s power. In some ways, this is a similar concept to the Hebrew cloud of witnesses spoken of here in our scripture.
This scripture was written so long ago. Then miraculously handed down until it finally became our time to be stewards of the Christianity heritage.
Let me ask you a question. Who has handed down something to you that you cherish? If you are thinking right now of someone who passed something down, why did having whatever you inherited make such a difference for you? My hunch is that the object is a tangible connection between you and a life no longer with you.
Our faith was passed down to us. This idea of the cloud of witnesses found here is just one manifestation of someone trying to convey that very idea. Jesus has run this race of faith and life before us. So have others leading up to, and including, our time.
The text from Hebrews 11-12 invites us to consider a long heritage of spiritual ancestors. It encourages us to draw from their stories the essence of a God who still moves among us. Then, if we draw from their cheering us on, we might run this race with endurance until we cross the finish line.